Why Short Emails Work Better

Mar 12, 2020

When it comes to emails, size matters. Short email work.

Turning up and logging into work, your potential client, Jeff, opens their inbox and sees no less than 20 emails. 

There’s the usual promotional stuff, a few from Jenny in accounts chasing invoice details that were due last week, some from businesses just like you looking to engage with him.

Jeff’s problem is that he doesn’t have a lot of time. There’s that report to get finished, the HR issue to deal with and that conference call at 10. Flicking through his inbox he’s faced with walls of text that go into the to-do pile. 

But if this is your first email to that potential client and they see that wall of text, you already know what Jeff’s next move is.

Trash.

Jeff. Definitely not just a stock image of a man.

All that hard work, those hours spent cramming over your copy. That sentence that you just know is a winner. The lengthy explanation of your services. Your company values. All lost at the click of a button.

Your email was too long.

On average, across all industries together, you only get your email opened 37% of the time. That means that 63% of the time you’re talking to the bottom of a trash can!

There’s an old internet adage that rings true still to this day: TLDR. Too long, didn’t read. Sure this is often used as a troll-like retort on forums, but there is some connection to what your potential clients are feeling. They don’t have time to invest in your lengthy novel of an email. It was too long- they didn’t read it.

Delivering Value

The message that should always be at the forefront of your mind when launching any sort of marketing campaign is that you deliver value. No matter how small, or how tangential, your customers need to believe that you’re giving them something valuable that they need. 

If you deliver value then they’ll build their relationship with you, spend their time with you, share their data with you, and eventually give you some of their hard-earned cash in exchange for your services.

So, when it comes to communicating with your customers you need to design everything with the end user in mind. 

That sounds cold, doesn’t it? End User. The marketing industry has a habit of dehumanizing the people behind the screens that they’re marketing to, and that’s why we imagine Jeff. There’s always a real person at the end of the marketing line, so put them in your mind whenever you’re writing to them.

There are 3 things, in general, to remember. 

  • People are impatient and have short attention spans (according to Microsoft, less than a goldfish now…)
  • People hate having their time wasted
  • People’s time is valuable, especially if they’re a potential customer

Don’t actually imagine your reader as a goldfish.

Short Emails – The Reality

There are thousands of articles out there hypothesizing about word count this, content length that. In this instance, we’re not going to be prescriptive. There’s no magic number you should be aiming for. It’s more of a feeling.

The overall aim of your email is to achieve a goal or purpose, and that’s it. Open a channel of communication. Share an interesting article you’ve published, or offer value of some sort. This isn’t the right time to launch into a monologue. Say what’s necessary then leave it at that. Less is more.

How To Write Short Emails – Actionable Tips

So how can you use all this knowledge to your advantage? How do you design the perfect short email?

Before you start writing, grab a piece of paper and write down the purpose of your email in one sentence. Seeing things written down in black and white can add clarity and will help you to experience the message as the end user.

Can’t do it in one sentence? Then your goal or purpose isn’t clear enough. Try and distill your thoughts down to just the essence of what you want to say, and once you’re done, stick that bit of paper next to your screen and read it every time you finish a sentence. 

If you read your purpose and find that the sentence you just wrote doesn’t align with it, consider whether it is truly necessary. This process might seem contrived, but you’ll quickly find that it’ll become more of a mindset and you won’t have to do it every time.

Finding the start to an email can be something of a large task but, generally speaking, there are two core styles of email:

  • Reader’s Problem
  • Your Offering

In terms of value for Jeff, you’re either proposing a potential solution to a problem that he has or you’re letting him know that you have something that might be of interest to him. Remember, this isn’t (especially in the first instance) always going to be a paid service. It might be a new blog post, even one you didn’t write yourself!

Moving on from the big picture, here are the smaller items you should always consider:

1. Be assertive without being brutal

Put yourself in the position of the human at the other end of your email. Jeff doesn’t have much time, and what little time he has isn’t best spent reading messages like this:

Hi there, so I was thinking about you and I’m sorry if this is an intrusion but I thought it might be a good idea if, maybe, I could drop you a line to have a chat about the conference that we went to. So, and sorry if I’m going on, we’re a marketing agency that has worked with over 100 different clients who have gone onto great things and have a great…..” 

Yawn

You’ve just wasted his time, and you’ve used over 70 words to say essentially nothing.  Instead, how about something like this:

“Hi Jeff, what did you think of that conference last week? I was impressed with Larry’s keynote. Any thoughts? Here’s hoping you enjoyed it too.”

A third of the words, a third of the time. Plus Jeff knows exactly what we might want to discuss. 

Two concise and ‘to the point’ questions and we’re done. The final part of the email treats Jeff like the human he is, and without it, we might come across somewhat robotic…

Pro Tip: Ditch the lengthy introductions, if you’ve got a well-crafted ‘About’ page on your website and a link in your signature then people can find out about you in their own time, if you’ve caught their attention.

2. The Editing Process

There’s no shying away from this one. You need to read and re-read what you’ve written. And then re-read it again. 

You only get one chance to make a good first impression and this is it. Spelling mistakes, grammar errors, waffling language, that’s all going to leave a poor impression. 

Start with a rough draft, and then go back and edit. Read it again, then edit again. Then show it to someone else. 

Pro Tip: When you’re in the drafting stage, don’t enter the recipient’s email address in the ‘To’ field. There’s nothing in the world like that sinking feeling when you send an email too early by accident!

3. Lists and Formatting

Numbered lists, bullet points, bolding and italicizing. They’re all tools in your arsenal. Use them to guide readers through your emails. Presenting a list of tips? Use a numbered format and clearly mark them out.

Pro Tip: Delivering data? Don’t be afraid to stick a table directly into your email. Clear visual data can make a lot more sense than a wordy explanation.

Writing Short Emails

When it comes to writing emails, less is definitely more. Keeping to a shorter length will save readers time and get your point across in the most efficient way possible. What’s not to love about that? 

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